A Buddhist temple in Queens, New York, is helping the local community by providing healthy foods to those in need.
While monks lead religious ceremonies in front of a golden statue of the Buddha, people outside the temple wear face masks as they wait in long lines to get basic food items.
The United Sherpa Association, which is based in the temple, started the food program last April when the coronavirus was at its worst in New York City.
The temple also serves as a community center for all people, including immigrants living in the country without legal permission. The center has helped unemployed people and provided assistance to Nepalese college students living far from their families.
Urgen Sherpa is president of the United Sherpa Association. He calls students the group helps “unknown victims” of the coronavirus. “They don’t have unemployment insurance. They don’t have homes here. They are far away from home,” he explained.
Coronavirus restrictions forced some students to leave their universities, which were also providing them meals. International students did not receive federal checks that went to help legal residents and citizens. Student visas do not permit them to work full-time or outside of the university.
Jyoti Rajbanshi is a nursing student from Nepal studying at Long Island University. She started going to the temple weekly to get food after she lost her job and had to use her credit card to pay all her living costs.
“It’s really a big help because you get all fresh and organic” food, she said. This greatly helps students to spend less money in a very costly city.
Rajbanshi said her parents both had COVID-19 and her uncle died from it. She hasn’t seen her family in Nepal in three years, and she worries about them. Her story is similar to many people who are concerned about their families back home.
Nepal, a country that greatly depends on foreign visitors, has been struggling economically during the pandemic. Because of this, many students cannot ask their families for any financial help. During most of 2020, the country was closed to international travelers. This damaged the tourism industry and many businesses closed.
Tshering Chhoki Sherpa is a 26-year-old student who attends New York’s Baruch College. She says her family back in Nepal had to close the hotel they ran near Mount Everest because of the pandemic.
She survives with some savings and gets food from the temple. She also volunteers for the program. “It feels good being a part of it,” she said, “and also getting help.”
Experts say about 2 million of New York City’s 8 million residents are facing food security issues. The city is also experiencing the highest unemployment rate since the Great Depression.
Many people living in the Queens neighborhoods surrounding the temple are immigrants. They have tested positive for COVID-19 in greater numbers than people in other parts of the city.
Early on in the pandemic, the Sherpa Association began reaching out to contacts across the world in an attempt to import face coverings and other protective items not available at local stores. Additionally, more than 30 Nepalese students were given $500. Volunteers also took protective equipment and boxes of food to families in the area.
Many community members learned about the food program through social media. Students have been volunteering to give out food every Friday.
Mina Shaestha is a 23-year-old student from Nepal. She decided to wait before starting her studies at LaGuardia Community College because of the pandemic.
“In Nepal, every day I hear harder news,” she said. “People are dying of hunger. They are staying in the same room because of quarantine.”
Her partner works part-time, but there is little money coming in, Shaesta said. The food they receive from the temple helps them feed themselves and their 2-year-old son.
“We save the money from the food and we can pay the extra things, like rent,” Shaesta said.
I’m Armen Kassabian.
Luis Andres Henao and Jessie Wardarksi from The Associated Press. Armen Kassabian adapted it for Learning English. Bryan Lynn was the editor.
Words in This Story
temple – n. a building for worship
insurance – n. an agreement in which a person makes payments to a company and the company promises to pay money if the person is sick, injured or dies
organic – adj. of food: grown or made without the use of artificial chemicals
tourism – n. activities related to travel to a place for pleasure
positive – adj. in a medical test, positive means the person being tested has a disease or condition
quarantine – n. the period of time during which a person or animal that has a disease or that might have a disease is kept away from others to prevent the disease from spreading
rent – n. to pay money in return for being able to use (something that belongs to someone else)
residents – n. someone who lives in a particular place
Are there any community groups helping people in need in your country? We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section